MI5 recruitment drive will focus on Asians

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Indy Politics

The counter-intelligence agency MI5 is to focus on Britain's Asian community as it recruits 1,000 more staff in a bid to combat Islamic terrorism.

But MI5 chiefs acknowledge that they face intense competition from private companies and other government agencies for Arabic speakers. Last year 9 per cent of MI5's 250 recruits came from ethnic minorities.

The service's starting salary for graduates is between £20,100 and £21,000, with extra for skills such as languages. Private security firms and financial concerns with Middle Eastern interests can offer higher salaries.

Recruits with ethnic backgrounds are also wanted by MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service), the listening post GCHQ, and the armed forces.

MI5 and MI6 need not only Arabic speakers but also those with a command of specific dialects. Terror groups are said to have become increasingly active in rooting out infiltration by government agents.

As well as linguists for G branch, which deals with international terrorism, the new recruits are likely to be earmarked for A4, the surveillance section, and T branch, which provides security.

The director general of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, warned the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, in November that her service was having difficulty coping with the rise in Islamic terrorism as a result of inadequate resources.

The increase in MI5's numbers - due to be announced by Mr Blunkett on Wednesday - will bring staffing up to 3,000, around the level it was at during the Second World War.

Mr Blunkett will tell MPs that Britain remains in a state of emergency because of the continuing threat of attacks, including suicide bombings, from al-Qa'ida. He is also expected to announce plans for new laws to counter terrorism, including the holding of some trials in secret, lowering the burden of proof for the prosecution to obtain convictions and allowing the use in court of evidence obtained from telephone tapping.

The annual budget for MI5 is secret, but is believed to be £200m. MI6 is said to account for £250m and GCHQ £450m.

Patrick Mercer MP, the Conservative homeland security spokesman, welcomed the announcement, but asked: "Why on earth has it taken them so long? We have been asking for extra resources for the intelligence agencies for over two years."